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UK leads project to develop Europe's deepest ocean-going 'glider'

06 July 2015

Some 19 partners have come together to develop Europe’s first ultra-deep-sea robot glider, capable of sampling the ocean floor at depths of 5,000m and more.

The BRIDGES deep ocean robot glider showing its interchangeable nose cones (illustration courtesy of the project team)

The project, which includes the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) - a partnership between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council - has won €8m of funding from the European Union’s Horizon2020 programme to develop and test this innovative new technology.

The capability of this new glider to reach at least 75 percent of the ocean is expected to open up new possibilities for science and industry. These include monitoring submarine biodiversity and conducting environmental impact assessments for potential sea bed mining and exploration.  

For example, the new glider will be able to detect the presence of ‘plumes’ of sediment created by mining processes, using novel sensors developed by the NOC and housed in the ‘nose’ of the glider. These plumes are an important element of the submarine ecosystem. 

The NOC's Dr Mario Brito, who is leading the project, said the development and integration of sensors that can work at these depths will be a real challenge.  "It is something that has not been done before and so the science behind it is really innovative," he says. "Furthermore, the range of sensors this glider can carry makes it well suited to a wide range of applications, both within research and industry.” 

In addition, the NOC will also be responsible for the development of pressure tolerant structures within the glider, its propulsion system, and its testing at sea. The final test is due to take place in September 2019, off the south east coast of Ireland. NOC will use advanced ‘risk and reliability’ techniques to quantify the risk of the glider failing under particular conditions.

“This glider will be designed to meet a well constrained reliability target, which will really help to ensure successful operations in the future” adds Dr Brito.

“The NOC is really pleased to have the opportunity to work so closely with so many SMEs, and to use the world class expertise here to help them grow and produce a European first in submarine glider technology,” says Kevin Forshaw, Director of Enterprise and Research Impact at the NOC.  

Pierre Bahurel who is the general manager of the French ocean forecasting centre, MERCATOR OCEAN, says glider technology has proven to be one of most promising ocean observing techniques. "Deep gliders have a strong role to play in operational oceanography, as well as enhancing our knowledge of the oceans,” he adds.

The four year project, called 'BRIDGES', will see the NOC working closely with nine SME’s from the UK and Europe.

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